Every plane trip, my randomly selected neighbour strikes up the same conversation.
“Are you going home?”
“Yeah. I guess.”
And somehow, I always figure that I am.
My body has, for a month, crawled out of the brief cocoon of America – the corn syrup, yes – the dust, of course – but the safety, too. I have had to sweat out the stalled pain of the things I have had to leave behind, their memory preserved, hardly seeming real.
Some days, jet-lagged or genuinely in transit, I feel like I have conditioned myself for loss. As if a relationship isn’t legitimized until I can find a way to remove myself from within it. Facebook is the graveyard of my old circles, holding the ghosts of the friends I thought I would let stand by me through my tender explosions. The ones whose text messages I neglected to reply to back in 2011, and now… well.
Each city still holds the circles of dear ones – some still serving one another, having replaced me long ago.
I would usually exit communities on the back of something – my circumstances would change, my city would change, my job would change or my lover would change, and my friends would wave me off, sometimes still calling for a while, before realising that I was not going to call back.
With relationships come accountability, and responsibility. How could I allow someone to watch on through my endless transitions? They would judge my failed journeys toward love. They would resent my poor attempts at finding energy in my introversion. No-one was allowed close enough call me, except my mother, and maybe a lover. It kept my anxiety silent, and my choices mine. I did not have to tell anyone how I actually was.
Newly employed or in love, it was easy enough to start again – to reinvent my social circle and my sense of worth on some level, at the very least.
But home dissolves that. Home peels you out of your skin, places you under hot water and says how about we talk about it.
I have been running from some particular conversations for many years. In the past month, I have finally started to sit down, and have them.
In this month, I have returned home. To a strange assortment of homes – to homes that have housed me, homes that have comforted me, homes that have employed me, homes that have ejected me. Homes that have kept the couch free, for my arrival. Made up the spare bed. Put on the kettle.
I have returned to my family – in so many of its incarnations, spread out across the east coast of Australia.
God had been telling me to do it. I put it off. Brushed it aside. I told Him he didn’t mean what He said. I told Him I couldn’t.
He almost picked me up and placed me on ‘LAX – BNE’ Himself.
You can, Beloved, and you will.
The tiny amygdala, in the brain, is responsible for memory and emotion, and is directly connected to part of the brain responsible for smell. It always uncurls at the airport. The freeways carrying me into the cities begin to provoke it. By the time I am home – to whichever place that may be, in whichever city – it is knocking against my skull, tethered to the years I have kindly asked it to file away. It shows me who I was, and reminds me where I have been – but I don’t want to know, and I don’t want to remember.
The smells bring me back to dissected moments – to the precise second, to the stretched season.
Brisbane – like sweetened coffee, like that bodywash – clean sheets, rotting wood, ginger ale and scotch. I feel like holding my dog. I feel marred.
Brisbane I thought I could handle. I figured everyone had moved away, and I was almost right. I sat with my loving parents. They asked me questions about my relationship that I did not want to answer. They calmly told me all of the people who have developed cancer since I last came home. They told me to eat more fruit. They asked me to clear out my childhood boxes, before I continued south.
Two weeks in, finally comfortable – hidden in my parents’ spare bedroom – I stalled.
I changed my flights. I chose not to go further.
Again, He picked me up and put me forcibly on the plane.
Melbourne – like fire, and steam – like air freshener in the hallway, and that one woolen jumper left forever in the back of that person’s car, like trams, like eucalyptus. I feel unimaginable grief, and I feel warm. I feel exposed. I feel like a cigarette – no, no – I feel like drinking tea.
Then the next plane.
Sydney – like salt rain, and oil – like bricks and bitumen, like Green Square Station, beer and mildew. I feel cold again, I feel twenty, I feel like I’m wearing too much makeup I feel like I am not pretty enough I feel like I feel like I feel like I feel nervous.
God brought me to my knees in each city.
He brought me back to old friends, old families, old lovers, and old colleagues. In my bottled loneliness, he exposed me to the very people I had been hiding from.
From high-school reunions to family housewarmings – from bars to parks, kitchens to streets, cars to gyms.
Over the past month, I have been led (sometimes kicking and screaming) into no less than thirty reconciliatory encounters. Thirty people, whom I had considered characters of my history, allowing me back into their lives, even just for that moment.
They would ask me about my relationship, and I would breathe, and tell the truth. And they would ask politely about my faith, and I would breathe, again, and explain it as best as I could.
I understand a few people saw my ‘change of heart’ (from furiously anti-Christian to zealously spiritual) as the reason for me disappearing off the face of earth. Actually, I disappeared long before that. I started disappearing after high-school – after the first few broken hearts and first couple of cities. Time added more people, more changes and more cities, and only stretched the distance.
The last three years with God have been Him teaching me how to come back home.
Home is repentance. Home is forgiveness. Home is reconciliation.
Our homecoming represents our return to what we were previously running from. Our homecoming defeats our fear of rejection. In our homecoming we embrace the one we never wanted to see again. In our homecoming, we are embraced. We discover that our return has been long-awaited. We repair love, in acknowledging that it still exists.
I saw this most clearly on the morning I returned to my home church, in Melbourne.
I had left in secret – there was no prayer, no goodbye. I had boarded the plane, with an empty promise of a swift return, and left. I was angry and ashamed, and I declared that I did not believe I was welcome back.
A year later, I felt differently. A lot had happened to my heart, and it had changed.
I didn’t know how to walk back in, but I knew that I had to.
I went late, with a friend. He and I stood up the back, and joined in the worship. The singing should have ended by then, but in typical fashion, it went on for half an hour more.
I stood in the midst of my family – my community – and added another voice to the hundred or so who were raising up their own songs to God. My voice (weak as ever) blended, somehow, as if it had never been missing. I felt the weight of a heavenly choir behind us. I curled on the ground, on my knees – back to the familiar floor of the basketball court on which we worshipped.
As the service continued, and ended, members of my church came up to me, grabbed me, and held me. They spoke as if no time had passed. They drew honesty out of me. They invited me over for dinner. Brother and sister alike looked me in the eyes and asked me: “Are you home for good?”
I kept nodding, realising that perhaps I was.
I flew out to Sydney the next day, shaken. A woman sat next to me.
“Are you going home?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
She looked at me, and then she showed me the letter she was writing to her boss – her lover – ending their relationship. She told me she was returning home, finally, to her husband and children. For an hour, all you could hear above the drone of the engine was the sound of her crying, quietly, over the pieces of paper in her hand.
I curled my spine against the hand of the spirit holding me.
My own reconciliations, though euphoric, have not come without years of fear, blame and deep anxiety. The same spirit that draws me back to these dangerous rooms, has also pulled me out of some I was fairly comfortable within. I have tried to run from conviction – but God is too kind to accept that. I have had to make room in my life – for Him, and for the others. Love surrounds me, in ways I never previously expected.
In this past month, I have wrapped my hands around my beloved and be-loathed mobile phone, the SIM turned on again after almost a year of disconnection.
I have started making phone calls, and I have started answering them.
Come on. Let’s talk it out.